Alumni couple offers local and fresh dining experience
Alumni couple offers local and fresh dining experience
W hen it comes to taking risks, Alex Windover, ’10, and Sarah Luttrell Windover, ’10, went against the grain. Their journey to owning their destination restaurant “Reina Mora Kitchen & Supper Club” in Puerto Rico began when they graduated from Georgia College. Since then, the couple’s professions have taken them to Atlanta, Chicago and New York City, where Alex was a chef in many fine dining establishments, and Sarah was a corporate recruiter. Alex worked nights, while Sarah worked days, so they rarely spent time together.
“We were trapped in separate career paths,” said Alex. “I cooked at traditional fine dining restaurants, and Sarah was in the corporate world. We had a vision to open our own place since we graduated from Georgia College. So, it was time to go ahead and do our own thing.”
The couple moved to a small town in western Puerto Rico just before the deadly, Cat-five Hurricane Maria hit in September 2017. Three months later, they established pop-up eateries in various locations, then built Reina Mora in 2019—an intimate, open kitchen and restaurant at the home of Alex and Sarah, who live on the top floor.
Sarah drew on the knowledge she gained from Georgia College in opening and promoting Reina Mora. In addition, she reached out to Bobcats for Business to tell her and Alex's story.
Bobcats for Business showcases videos of Georgia College alumni who are business owners. Here, alumni can share how they got started and their success stories, as well as promote their business.
“I used a lot of what I learned from my communications and marketing classes at Georgia College in building our website, promotions and any marketing piece that we did,” she said. “They helped me a great deal.”
The couple wanted to open a business that was different than any other type of restaurant. To help build their business model, Alex wanted it to be opposite of everything he had seen in the restaurant environment.
“We’re really flexible, dynamic and small. It’s just the two of us,” Sarah said. “I run the front house, and Alex runs everything in back of the house. And, we offer seasonality and food that comes to us locally from farmers who we’ve partnered with over the last three years. Eighty-five to 90 percent of the food we serve is local.”
Every week their menu is new and different, based on seasonal produce and meats available from farmers. There are just four courses on the tasting menu for restaurant guests.
“Our restaurant is about availability and abundance,” said Sarah. “We tell our guests what they’re going to eat as opposed to them ordering what they’re going to eat.”
“When our guests come in, they tell us if they have any allergies, then we’ll adjust it based on that,” said Alex. “Otherwise, it’s just four dishes that’s based on the food we find that week. One of our farmers just killed a pig, so pork is going to be on the menu. And it’s also mango season, so that will be on the menu as well.”
“We just established our restaurant as being the place in town that keeps food local,” said Sarah. “And our patrons know where their food is coming from when they dine with us. And so, we always have a lot of return guests, who wonder what’s going to be different than the food we’ve served the week before.”
Sarah feels that her communications major and rhetoric minor proves helpful in her daily interactions.
“Dr. Dillard was my rhetoric professor. I use a lot of his teachings every day at our business at Reina Mora, because I am always speaking to all of our guests.”
Alex’s major was history. His History Professor Dr. Pharr taught him the value of gathering information from various reliable sources.
“We didn’t know how to grow food in a tropical environment,” said Alex. “I think it’s just ingrained in me from doing so much research in college to find proper information.”
“Everything that I wrote about had to come from good sources,” he said. “Getting accurate information is crucial. If you’re using the same source too much, you can create bias, so I had to figure out better ways to source information. And, that’s what we do down here. We try to find different purveyors, so we can cook with new ingredients.”
The couple’s restaurant is in the heart of the community.
“We don’t feed tourists,” said Sarah. “We get some people who come across the island from San Juan. But for the most part, we get repeat guests from the west coast of the island who want food that’s growing around them.”
“The town we live in is very rural. We didn’t know anyone when we moved here. So, a lot of what we did was build our own family here. And, a lot of that is being involved in the community.”
The couple purchases their produce from the weekly farmer’s market.
“We turn that food from this farmer’s market into our product that we sell at our restaurant,” said Sarah. “Many of our patrons are small business owners, as well. So, it’s an entire ecosystem that’s built upon and supporting one another.”
This was the case even during the COVID-19 pandemic. The couple had access to all of the produce and proteins, even when the local farmer’s market was shut down. They were able to use their connections with farmers and to get food for their patrons.
“It’s really important to listen to our patrons,” said Sarah. “And, they want local food. The most enjoyable thing about what we do is serve pure food.”
The secret to success for Alex and Sarah is they made their business extremely bullet-proof or anti-fragile.
“We’ve faced a hurricane, had an earthquake in early 2020 and now we’ve gone through COVID, and we’re really proud that our business has remained profitable,” she said. “The reason is that we’re able to turn things around quickly and can pivot in any direction we need to.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, they kept their same business model of keeping costs low, using mostly local produce and being flexible by offering take-out dishes. Now, they’re back to serving dishes in the restaurant.
“When our patrons walk into the restaurant, they’re coming into our home,” said Sarah. “I hope they feel a sense of connectedness and community. I hope that they feel they are getting a taste of Puerto Rico—experiencing something new and original and that they think back on the night they dined here.”
Taking risks by deviating from the standard career track, was the greatest decision they feel they ever made.
“I think by choosing to take that leap, it just feels like this decision put us in the exact place where we should be,” said Sarah. “We’re really grateful for the island and how all the people here have just accepted us and treat us like family.”
Alex and Sarah feel lucky to have gotten their start at Georgia College.
“There’s something about the environment that connected us, and we’re grateful for that,” said Sarah. “That was our meeting place and it’s our story. When we think back, we think fondly of it, and know that all of this started at Georgia College. Without going there, we wouldn’t be here.”
The Georgia College Foundation presents the Bobcats for Business Directory. This directory is intended as a service and resource for our alumni. At Georgia College, we celebrate "Leading Creatively," and we are proud of our Bobcat entrepreneurs and business leaders. If you are an alumni member and business owner, and you would like your business included in this directory, please visit our website: bobcatsforbusiness.com.